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Book Review: Zen Mind, Beginners Mind

March 27, 2011

Zen Mind, Beginners Mind: 40th Anniversary Edition
Written by Shunryu Suzuki
Published by Shambhala Publications

“You may think that if there is no purpose or no goal in our practice, we will not know what to do. But there is a way. The way to practice without having any goal is to limit your activity, or to be concentrated on what you are doing in this moment.”

I think this quote epitomizes the message of the this book. Shunryu’s approach to explaining Zen not only to groups of Americans in the 60’s, but even today, was simple and like a pond that is motionless, clear as clear can be.

He came to the US to mind Soko-ji, a temple located in San Francisco. He was a bit put off by the fact the Zen that had been taught was diluted. He was excited though to see and hear all that was going on and believed that teaching Americans could help revolutionize Zen teachings. He went on to found the San Fransisco Zen Center, and left Soko-ji disappointed with the way Zen was being taught by mainly Japanese immigrants. He believed that the students he was gaining, mainly Caucasian hippies, were more serious about the core practices.

I do not know, nor do I have any excuse, for why it took me so long to read this book. “Zen Mind, Beginners Mind” is hands down one of the most important books in Buddhism. It is a compilation of various talks he did.

Although it is simple, and seems stripped down, it took me a bit to read as I truly wanted to immerse myself in every page. Shunryu’s style is one that is polished, and understandable. If these words are truly the words he spoke and taught, it’s no wonder we have some many wonderful teachers coming from San Fransisco Zen Center.

I recently met someone who had practiced at SFZC and I sat with him a bit to go over some things. From that conversation my practice has taken on a whole new direction. If it has anything to do with what was learned at SFZC than I am grateful.

One of my favorite quotes of the book is, “The basic teaching of Buddhism is the teaching of transiency, or change. That everything changes is the basic truth for each existence. No one can deny this truth, and all the teaching of Buddhism is condensed within it.”

If for some reason it’s taken you as long to read this as it took me, than I recommend you make this your next Dharma book to read. I look forward to referring back to this time and time again.

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 28, 2011 11:29 am

    You know it’s funny. I tried to read this book several years ago and it didn’t make any sense to me.

    I still have it on my shelf and plan on re-reading it soon.

    Some books along the same lines (stylistically) that I recommend, now that I have a little more practice under my belt:

    Opening the Hand of Thought – Uchiyama Roshi I’m in a study class for this one and if you like Suzuki’s way of summarizing difficult concepts you’ll love Uchiyama, as he does the same thing. He’s great with the analogies.

    Realizing Genjokoan -Shohaku Okumara Sensei – This is by Uchiyama’s dharma heir and although I haven’t read it I still recommend it. I do recommend you do as I am doing and read Opening the Hand of Thought first as Okumara refers a lot to things his teacher taught him.

    There’s a priest at our Zen center who has devoted most of his study to the teachings of Sawaki Kodo (aka Homeless Kodo) and his heirs (including Uchiyama).

    Being Upright – Tenshin Reb Anderson Roshi – One of Suzuki’s dharma heirs. This is a really good book on the Zen interpretation of the Buddhist precepts.

    I might be a bit biased towards Suzuki Roshi as my own practice lineage is a branch of his.

    Glad you’ve come over to the dark side where we wear the black (metal) robes! ;)

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